Attested:  Many late Roman writers used Scoti or Scotti to refer to troublesome raiders who impinged on north and west Roman Britain.  See here for some references.  One of the earliest mentions was in the Verona List of AD 314, when Scoti, Picti, and Calidoni were among the barbarae quae pullulaverunt sub imperatoribus.

Where: By the time of Isidore of Seville and the Ravenna Cosmography (AD 600-700), Scotia was treated as a name for Ireland and Scoti was a name for Gaelic speakers.  The notion that Gaels invaded en masse from Ireland and were not significantly living in western Scotland before AD 400 is probably a late rationalisation as, for example, Price explained.  Later the name Scotland transferred to the speakers of northern (Anglian) English.

Name origin:  Greek σκοτος ‘dark’ came from an Indo-European root with descendants in Germanic languages and old Irish that meant ‘shadow’.  In Latin scotia meant architectural elements that looked dark.  Maybe the idea of darkness got applied to a whole people because, in Roman times, people in the west of the British Isles had darker complexions than those in the east, a distinction that has been blurred by later migrations.  Cassius Dio remarked that Britons had less yellow hair than Celts (i.e. Continentals).

Notes:  Many other theories have been proposed, often rooted in unwillingness to admit how deeply embedded in human nature is a propensity to comment on another person's physical appearance.  Plenty of individuals or tribes got named because of their relative darkness: think of the name Dougal, dark and fair foreigners, or the DumnoniiΣκοτιοι ‘of the dark’ was one name for black hunters, the Greek version of the war-bands of adolescent raiders that existed in many wild Indo-European societies.  Note how Goidel, from Welsh Gwyddel ‘Irishman’ fundamentally meant ‘wild’.  Sense development from ‘darker than us’ to ‘robbers’ might be aided by early Germanic words for ‘harm’ that led to English scathe, German Schaden, etc, and only later became an ethnic term.  Wulfila's Gothic Bible, from not long after the first mention of Scoti, illustrates these Germanic parallels in these passages:
2nd Corinthians 12,13  fragibiž mis žata skažis ‘forgive me this wrong’.
Luke 10,19 jah waihte ainohun izwis ni gaskažjiž ‘and nothing shall by any means hurt you’
1st Timothy 6,9  lustuns managans unnutjans jah skažulans ‘many foolish and hurtful lusts’
Colossians 3,25  sa auk skažaila andnimiž žatei skož ‘but he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done’

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Last edited 17 March 2023     To main Menu.